Jason Kerrison would like to think Until the End of Time is not Opshop's last album. Yet it doesn't bode well given the record's apocalyptic title, and recent revelations on TV One's Close Up showing that he's building an "ark" to take shelter in on December 21, 2012, when an ancient Mayan prophecy says the world will end, or something equally catastrophic will occur.

You see, if it does turn to cataclysmic custard in around 2 years time, and Opshop keep to their current cycle of releasing an album every three years, then they won't have time for another album. So is this the last record?

"F*** I hope not," laughs Kerrison sitting at an Auckland cafe with band mates Bobby Kennedy (drums), Matt Treacy (guitar) and Clint Harris (bass). They've just returned from playing the Pentaport Rock Festival in South Korea.

"It's the last one before the next one," offers Kennedy quickly, before there's a short, slightly uncomfortable silence.

"Let's look at the reality of it, right," pipes up Kerrison. "To me, it feels as though a lot of the talk about that period has this negativity to it. 'Ah, it's the end of the world.' But I don't see it like that at all. When you look at it, even just the title [of the album], it seems more like a romantic notion than it does horrific. That's really where we're coming from with this record. I guess that's the thing about Until the End of Time, all this stuff to me is about a rebirth."

So this likeable and friendly guy - hell, Kerrison and his band are the people's band - is no scaremonger or doomsayer. He's just making preparations for his nearest and dearest just in case.

No matter what happens, Until the End of Time is a big, bold and beautiful statement.

It's easily the band's best album, getting five stars in TimeOut this week. But more importantly it's their most ambitious and adventurous record yet, following the sincere, and at times earnest, 2004 debut You Are Here and 2007's all-conquering Second Hand Planet which, with single and Post Shop song One Day, made them the country's biggest band.

While Until the End of Time still retains that polished and catchy Opshop sheen, it has "dirty" 80s synthesisers on stompers like Madness and Other Allergies; Kerrison even gets his Lil Wayne on, using a voice effects pedal on some tracks; and then there's the "Mahler" moment at the start of album opener Pins & Needles that Kennedy and Treacy conjured up.

"It sounded awesome," remembers Kennedy, "but it didn't sound like anything we'd done before. It was daunting thinking, 'How are we going to fit it in?' But it was about getting out of the comfort zone."

"We've definitely put it on the line," agrees Treacy of the album, recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios and also in Tetbury, Britain, by producer Greg Haver and engineer Clint Murphy (both of whom worked on Second Hand Planet).

"The idea really was to f*** with people's expectations," says Kerrison. "But at the same time give them something that's familiar that they then have to grow into - and probably including ourselves within that too.

"At first I was a bit reluctant to hear some of the sounds but looking back I think they really work. It doesn't sound like a completely different band, but there sounds like some sort of regeneration process going on."

Treacy says following Second Hand Planet they toured for nearly two years, and on the nationwide winery jaunt in early 2009 it was clear the audience the band were attracting was there to hear One Day. As soon as the tour finished they decided it was time to start again on something new.

"We didn't really want to leave it as being known as the One Day band," he deadpans. "And as much as you want more success and your songs to be heard by lots of people I personally didn't want things to sound like that, and anything that did I moved far away from."

For Kerrison there was no expectation or pressure to write another One Day. However, what he did do was take that song and deconstruct it to come up with Sunday's Best Clothes.

"The irony is it was me just tinkering away one morning and thinking if 'I was to do that what would it sound like?' And I had no intention of it ever making the record, because I thought we had already done the One Day thing."

Also following the last album, the business side of Opshop got a shake-up with a parting of ways from record company Siren and the management team that had helped establish them as the country's biggest band.

"The relationships had pretty much run their course," says Kerrison.

"If we'd [been] consumed by that we wouldn't be here doing this interview - and we might not have been here at all," adds Treacy.

"All the crap, and the industry stuff that was going on," continues Kennedy, "was the impetus for us to get into a room and start making music."

So they hunkered down in Kerrison's attic and started playing, and much of what they came up with was dance music - in an Opshop style, of course.

"We made a conscious effort to get it a bit more dancey, and really just have a fun time, so when we go out and play it feels like there are no dead spots in the set," says Kennedy.

Although, adds Kerrison with a laugh, it's definitely not a dance album. Yet many of the songs have a new propulsive and heady drive to them, with no let-up on the first half of the record until the creepy yet beautiful Monsters Under Your Bed. Even then there's a grittiness to that song - with "weird s***" sounds that make you wonder what Opshop were on when they wrote it - something the old Opshop would never have come up with.

"It's got that darkness but it's got a really lovely melodic quality that pulls you in and along with it," says Kennedy.

Offsetting all the grand, U2-meets-Muse epics are gentler, more anthemic and traditional Opshop songs like the piano-driven Everything to Someone, the strings' soaked Nowhere Fast, and Sunday's Best Clothes.

Kerrison's intrigue with apocalyptic prophecies also extends to his obsession with ideas and theories like the "Biosphere-Noosphere Transition" (I know, I had to Google it too), which Kerrison explains as "What the world's experience would be like if it had the ability to reflect upon itself on various levels".

"I've always been fascinated by the stuff that's never been able to be explained. I've always been intrigued by the what-ifs so I've always read widely for that kind of stuff and I've amassed a small library on it."

"It's not very small," laughs Treacy.

And on Paradox, an uppity electronic and synthesiser heavy song, Kerrison also borrows a sermon from former Seattle pastor Dr Bob Moorehead, who "retired" from the church under a cloud of allegations of sexual impropriety.

"[Matt] did some research on it and he brought that up,"says Kerrison, "and we were a bit reluctant at first to put it on the album."

But they decided his words - like "we've added years to life, not life to years" - were fitting, and musically it had become one of the band's favourite songs, so they kept it.

"It felt like there was something missing before that song. It's amazing what one song can do one an album in how it breaks up songs," says Treacy, who, with a bit of detective work, tracked Moorehead down to get the okay to use the sermon.

"He just said, 'Look, you can have it, I just want God to get all the glory, so you're welcome to use it'."

So is this the album to make the world sit up and take more notice?

They don't really know, although Kerrison says Asia is a big focus for the band and the reception they get at festivals like Pentaport is encouraging.

"It's untapped, and it's so easily within reach [from New Zealand], and they seem hugely up for it."

Treacy points out that the feedback they got back from around the world about Second Hand Planet was that there were a number of bands around doing the same thing.

"But this one has got many more points of difference, and there's bits and pieces for everybody that they can latch on to.

"But whether they do or not - that's up to them."

LOWDOWN
Who: Opshop
Line-up: Jason Kerrison (singer/guitarist); Bobby Kennedy (drums); Matt Treacy (guitar); Clint Harris (bass)
New album: Until the End of Time, out now
Past albums: You Are Here (2004); Second Hand Planet (2007)

-NZ Herald / TimeOut